Study Links Hard Tracks to Injury Risk in Harness Racing Horses

Researchers performed diagnostic imaging on Standardbreds’ limbs to pick up early signs of damage to bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They noted more serious lesions—and more lesions in general—in horses trained only on a firm surface.

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injury risk in harness racing horses
The researchers recommended training horses on variety of surfaces and in different directions, as well as properly maintaining footing, to reduce injury risk. | Photo: iStock

Hard tracks might have certain benefits when racing harness horses, such increasing internal structures’ loading rates. But new study results also showed a major increase in injury risk when training on hard surfaces compared to soft ones.

“We suspected harder surfaces led to more injuries, but we did not expect the rate to be so high,” said Nathalie Crevier-Denoix, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, of the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d’Alfort Equine Biomechanics and Musculoskeletal Pathology Department and the French National Institute of Agronomic Research.

In their pioneering study, Crevier-Denoix and her fellow researchers followed 12 3-year-old Standardbred racehorses of similar breeding and body shape over a four-month training program. Half the horses trained only on a hard track, and the other half trained only on a softer track. They worked three days a week for 16 weeks, except for the ninth week (in the middle of the training program) when they trained only once because they were undergoing various health exams in the clinic. Researchers also performed a complete clinical and imaging checkup at the beginning and end of the training program

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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